Is Montoya At A Crossroads?
When it comes to Juan Montoya and his future, there seems to be two schools of thought. I’ve read where some say that he is washed up and will be let go by Team Penske at the end of this season in order to make room to hire Josef Newgarden. Then there are those that say his demise is greatly exaggerated and that he has just had some bad luck recently.
I fall somewhere in the middle. First of all, I don’t think that Montoya is washed up by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do I think that he is going to be fired by Team Penske, no matter who is available. But to write off his mediocre results as nothing more than bad luck is also being just a bit naïve. I think there is more to it than that – a lot more.
To me, this is not an ability issue any more than it is a bad luck issue. This is just my observation as a fan and nothing more, but I think Montoya’s run of mostly so-so finishes boils down to desire. The Juan Montoya that made his mark as a champion hated to lose and didn’t mind showing it. He could be as surly as anyone in the paddock when things weren’t going well for him. He would only crack a smile when he was standing at the top of the podium.
The Juan Montoya of today crawls out of a crashed car, shrugs his shoulders and carries the demeanor that he couldn’t care less if he just finished last or not. His interview during the Indianapolis 500, just after he inexplicably crashed in a single car accident sounded like a driver who was fairly happy that he had just gotten a solid fourth place finish – not someone who had just guaranteed himself a last-place finish in a double-points paying race.
To put it bluntly, Juan Montoya is now sounding like a driver who doesn’t really care. If that’s really the case, then that’s a shame.
Some will bristle at that notion, while others might get downright hostile. As I said, this is strictly my observation from what I see in television interviews.
How else do you explain his decline in performance? Last season, from the season opener through the Month of May; Montoya had an average finish of 4.5. After winning the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career, Montoya’s average finishing position was 8.3 for the remainder of the 2015 season. This season, his average finishing position is 10.0 – and that’s counting his season-opening win at St. Petersburg.
Montoya’s defenders will say that he has seven Top-Ten finishes in nine races this season. His detractors will point out that only four of the nine were Top-Five finishes.
But his detractors will tell you that Montoya’s skills have eroded. Look at some of the drives he has had this season and that will tell you that that is not the case. But then there are the head-scratching moments like Indianapolis and Race Two in Detroit where Montoya crashes and seems to imply that it’s not that big a deal that makes one wonder just what is going on with the Colombian driver.
It’s understandable if his desire has diminished. One would think that winning the Indianapolis 500 would do that for any driver – especially winning it a second time. I also have to think that losing the 2015 IndyCar championship the way he did might tend to thwart his desire. To lead a championship from the first race all through the season in to race morning of the season-finale, only to see it slip away in the waning laps of the final race – that would be a tough pill for anyone to swallow.
Many people much smarter than I am predicted a 2016 slump for Montoya before the season started. I chuckled when he seemingly proved them all wrong by winning the season-opening race, just as he did last year. His ninth place finish in the second race at Phoenix did not seem as good as his fifth at NOLA in the last year’s second race, but it’s even more impressive when you realize he battled back from suffering a cut tire at Phoenix. He followed Phoenix with a fourth at Long Beach and a fifth at Barber. But he had a forgettable eighth place finish in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the disaster in the “500”. He had a good run in the first Detroit race, when he finished third, but laid an egg the second day when he crashed and finished twentieth.
I was questioned for my assessment of Montoya’s race at Road America, where he finished seventh after starting fourteenth on the grid. Yes he advanced seven spots, but four of the five that encountered problems and were at least one lap down, all started in front of Montoya.
So is Montoya having a dismal season? It depends on your perspective. He is currently ninth in points. Many drivers would love to be in ninth place just past the halfway point in the season. However, Montoya’s teammate, Will Power, missed the season-opening race that Montoya won – yet Power is third in the championship, trailing only his other two Penske teammates; Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. For a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and former CART champion who led last year’s championship most of the way – you would think that Montoya would be going nuts about now. Instead, he seems content that all is well. As far as his job security, it probably is.
We are all speculating about what might happen next year, because none of us really know. That’s what makes writing a blog so enjoyable. It starts conversations. My guess is about as good as anyone’s – and it is just that, a guess.
But that guess is that Juan Montoya has already decided that this year will be his last in open-wheel racing. He will be forty-one in September. He has a beautiful wife and three young children. He purportedly has more money than he knows what to do with. According to Curt Cavin, his home in Miami makes every other driver’s home look modest – and we’ve seen some of the lavish homes of other drivers.
He has won in every form of racing he has attempted. He won the CART championship as a rookie. He won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He won in Formula One as a rookie and seven Formula One races along with thirteen F1 poles in five and a half seasons. He won twice in Sprint Cup, before returning to open-wheel and winning five races in the Verizon IndyCar Series along with his second Indianapolis 500 victory in 2015. What is left for Juan Montoya to do to validate his racing career?
Again, this is purely conjecture on my part – but I’m wondering if Montoya started thinking about a life after racing when he lost control and crashed in this year’s Indianapolis 500; especially after the way he lost the 2015 IndyCar championship to Scott Dixon in the last race of the season. If I were his age and at that point in my career, I certainly know I would.
You also can’t help but wonder how last year’s race at Pocono has affected him. If I had three young children and looked at the family of Justin Wilson suddenly deprived of their father being in their lives; it would certainly make me re-evaluate things.
No one has whispered anything to me in confidence, nor did I hear any murmurings in the media center or in the paddock at Road America. These meanderings are simply from a gut feeling I’ve gotten from watching the exact same televised interviews that you have. Perhaps his air of contentment is because he is at peace with himself, for once. Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines or I’m looking for something that’s simply not there. But I don’t think so. My gut feelings are usually pretty accurate.
For the last few weeks, I’ve heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee on Trackside speculate whether Helio Castroneves or Tony Kanaan will be with their respective teams in 2017. I’m thinking they both will be. My guess is that the one missing veteran on the grid in 2017 will be Juan Montoya – but by his own choice. My opinion is that he is definitely at a crossroads in his career and his life. The decision will be his, but I suspect he hangs up his helmet after this season. For IndyCar’s sake, let’s hope I’m wrong.